Barcodes to Fight Obesity

Why not use barcodes to shift preferences away from unhealthy, processed foods toward whole food choices?  We eat what is cheap.  Barcodes could change this, just as we tax alcohol and cigarettes.  Barcodes could be used to tax unhealthy food choices with revenues recycled to local farmers growing foods in a sustainable manner.


With modern technology and the current composition of agriculture—still heavily weighted toward small family farms that earn only modest agricultural receipts—we do have in place the tools and the agricultural profile to implement, without major dislocation, many of these ideas.




Barcodes, whose initial digits already code the country of origin, could be made to code the environmental and health “footprint” of a product.  The glycemic index as well as the amount of sugar, transfats, chemical ingredients, and GMOs could be coded, with products taxed accordingly.  We eat what is cheap.  Taxing to make products that foster diabetes, metabolic stress, and chronic disease less attractive would discourage demand.  It would also shift more and more purchasing power toward healthier whole-food choices, particularly if ways could be found to reduce the cost of organic, whole-foods.  One way that this could be achieved is to direct the tax revenue from barcode-levied unhealthy processed foods, recycling these funds to subsidize organic, sustainable farming.


Agricultural Profile…The Reason Barcodes Could Work. When we think of U.S. agriculture, we may think of the vast acreage tied up in modern agri-business and commercial farming efforts.   While it is true that much of our food today is produced on these mega-farms, small family farms are still the bedrock of our agricultural system.  According to the latest Census of Agriculture (2007, released 4 Feb, 2009), 90% of all farms are still owned by individual farmers.  In addition, farm receipts for the majority of farms total less than $10,000 annually.1  This profile suggests that most U.S. farms are small, rather flexible production units.  With the backing of federal subsidies and shifts in consumer demand, this broad network of small, individual farmers might adjust rather quickly and well to a growing demand for organic, sustainable, locally-grown foods.


Measuring GDP to value “product” in the home. Support for sustainable organic foods and humane animal husbandry does not reach far enough.  We need also to teach cooking skills and give value to home cooking.  The government’s GDP may measure earned, reported income and product, but it imputes nothing for quality of life or the value added to goods that are associated with man-hours contributed at home.  The GDP adds no value for foods grown in family gardens or prepared in home kitchens [nor the hours that parents spend on providing childcare, for that matter2 ].  Growing food, buying from local organic farmers, and taking time to cook meals at home mean that we gain the added value of knowing where our food comes from.  And, the kitchen gives us a creative outlet right in our own homes (see The Gift of the Kitchen, January, 2010).  We need government statistics to measure quality of life behaviors that encourage connection to food, family and better health.


“Fairness.” We like to pride ourselves on our free market economy, but in reality we live in an agricultural system that is neither “free” nor a real market.3  The government not only uses tax revenues from individuals to pay farmers not to produce, but also offers subsides to (GMO) grain and soybean farmers to compensate them for depressed market prices .   It seems to me that the government is really subsidizing, through our commercial food system, our own medical system. Aren’t our tax dollars supporting a “double-dip” structure that benefits medical care—through subsides that allow for cheap food that fosters chronic disease AND through our subsidized national health care system?  Is it any wonder that medical care is the prime growth sector in today’s otherwise lackluster economy?


Projected upon this canvas, the thought of using barcode-taxing to shift incentives away from fractured, commercial foods toward whole foods grown sustainably is hardly a wild proposal.  Given the lobby-generated bias in Washington that creates an “upside-down” Food Pyramid, as well as subsides for GMO crops and school lunch programs saturated with processed foods, attempts to shift demand and production toward healthier choices seem both reasonable and justified.   Barcodes can be used to educate consumers, shifting demand toward healthier food choices.  And, our vast network of small family farmers, far from intractable, seems more than able—if led by the nurturing hand of government— to shift more and more of our natural and human resources to the production of “real” food.


Copyright 2011


  1. []
  2. Because we live in a service-based economy, parents are really in the capital investment business.  The quality of childcare determines the quality of our future capital stock. []
  3.  See Joan Dye Gussow, Growing, Older []

Controlling Blood Sugar

Controlling Blood Sugar to Help Prevent Diabetes, Obesity, and Chronic Disease


Because a bagel, bran flakes, or a “Heart-Healthy” bowl of instant oatmeal is free of cholesterol and fat, we might think of these as a good way to start the day.  But, when viewing foods with this lens, it can be easy to lose sight of the detrimental blood sugar effects of such fractured, concentrated carbohydrates.   Ironically, these high-glycemic1 foods can contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease because excess blood sugar can damage cells, which means arteries, organs and other tissues.2


What I would like to offer in this piece is a different way to think about meals.  Instead of thinking primarily about calories or cholesterol, I hope you consider (if you do not already) how a meal or a snack affects your blood sugar.  Reading and experimenting with blood sugar has taught me to view meals with this lens.  Good health is not only about calories:  If it were about calories, how in the last decade could obesity and diabetes rates skyrocket while the daily calorie intake of Americans did not increase?3


Why It Is Important to Control Blood Sugar:  Obesity and Diabetes

Many chronic diseases are related to metabolic stress associated with elevated blood glucose levels.  These diseases include diabetes and insulin resistance; obesity; cardiovascular disease; hypoglycemia, overeating, depression, anxiety and mood swings; as well as some types of cancers.  Obesity and diabetes are clear and well-documented illustrations of the enormous increase in blood-sugar-related diseases.  High-glycemic foods are linked to overeating, and hence obesity.  High glycemic foods are also associated with insulin resistance and diabetes.


Obesity. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicate that one-third of all adults in the United States are obese.  This rate has more than doubled (from 15% in 1979) in just 30 years.  Because an equal one-third of all adults are overweight, fully two-thirds of all adults in the United States are either overweight or obese.4  Obesity trends for children and teens are also discouraging.   One in ten preschool children is currently obese, double the rate 30 years ago; while one of every five school-aged children (age 6-17) is obese, a rate that has tripled over the same 30-year period.5


Diabetes. Diabetes was not a major health factor 50 years ago.  Fewer than 1% of all Americans were diabetic in the late 1950’s.  Today diabetes affects one out of every twelve Americans and one of four senior citizens.  In addition, 25% of the population is sufficiently insulin-resistant to be classified as pre-diabetic.6  These trends support the current projection that one-half of all Caucasian children and two-thirds of all children who are Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes.


How Late-20th Century Food and Lifestyle Has Contributed to Blood-Sugar-Related Disease

No one single cause is, of course, behind the spread of metabolic stress and chronic disease.  Among the constellation of dietary and lifestyle factors, the following are what I believe to be the major contributors:


  • The emphasis on low-fat, cholesterol-free foods. Fats improve taste and satisfy hunger.  But fats, especially traditional fats like butter, have lost dietary share to carbohydrates.  (Fats accounted for 45% of the American diet in 1965, compared to less than 33% today.7   Butter consumption fell 66% over the last 100 years and 15% since 1970.8  Yet, the milk fat in butter is associated with trimmer waistlines and lower rates of diabetes.9  Butter from grass-fed animals is also the most reliable source of vitamin A since carotenes in fruits and vegetables can be difficult to convert to vitamin A.10.  It is true that excessive consumption of saturated fats from commercially-raised animals fed GMO corn can foster inflammation and diabetes, but butter from grass-fed animals has an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids.  Consuming modest amounts of traditional saturated fats as well as omega-3 fatty acids is important for healthy cell membranes and neurological function.   Concerning the modern trend to favor low-fat foods, because low-fat foods do not effectively satisfy hunger, they can lead to overeating, particularly the overeating of carbohydrates.  And, low-fat products affect metabolic stress a second way—food companies add extra sugars to low-fat foods to counter the loss of taste and satisfaction normally provided by fats.   Avoid low-fat processed foods because they will not satisfy you and they are loaded with extra sugars.


  • Quality of carbohydrates. Most carbohydrate calories consumed by Americans are from grains rather than from nutrient- and fiber-dense fruits and vegetables.  Of the grains that are consumed, more than 90% are high-glycemic , refined-grain products.11  Refining removes the fiber and phytic acid naturally found in whole grains—two factors that slow gastric emptying and therefore the blood glucose impact of starch metabolism.  Thus, refined carbohydrates spike blood sugar, which can lead to hunger and overeating.  Emphasize whole grains and fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber and antioxidants, rather than refined grain products.


  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The average American consumes 30 teaspoons of sugars and sweeteners/day, a figure equal to 477 calories, or about one-quarter of the total daily calorie intake based on a 2000-calorie diet.12  HFCS began to creep into the American diet through processed foods and soft drinks 40 years ago.   Since then, consumption of HFCS has grown 400%, replacing in many applications cane and beet sugars (consumption of these is down 38% since 1970).  Exchanging HFCS for sugar exacerbates metabolic stress because HFCS is metabolized differently from sugar.  It is even more harmful because, unlike sucrose that is metabolized by insulin and converted more readily into energy, HFCS is processed in the liver where it is converted into fat.13  Drink water rather than HFCS-sweetened soft drinks and read the labels of packaged foods.


  • Quality of Fats. Transfats are in many of today’s packaged/processed foods.  Transfats and refined vegetable oils foster obesity and diabetes because they upset biochemistry and cell membrane function, including insulin metabolism.   While ingesting more transfats, consumers have shifted away from butter and coconut oil—fast-metabolizing short- and medium-chain fatty acids that provide a thermogenic effect to aid in weight loss14–in favor of refined vegetable oils that are slower to metabolize and more likely to be deposited as fat:  Short- and medium-chain fatty acids like butter and coconut oil are attracted to water and transported through the intestinal wall to be quickly metabolized as energy.  In contrast, vegetable oils with a longer 18-carbon chain must first be configured into triglycerides and carried by the blood stream to the liver, where they are more likely to be stored as fat.15  Avoid transfats and refined vegetable oils.  These are inflammatory and disrupt metabolism. For satiety and to protect against diabetes, choose omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax seed, as well as extra virgin olive oil, nuts, nut/seed oils, ground flax seed, and modest amounts of butter from grass-fed animals.


  • Skipping Breakfast. Over 40% of Americans aged 18-54 regularly skip breakfast, and more than half of all adults view breakfast as a mere mini-meal, snack, or simply a beverage.16 Skipping, skimping and/or choosing a high-glycemic breakfast can lead to overeating and weight gain (see Restoring Breakfast, January, 2011).  Plan a delicious breakfast and make time for it.  The thought of rewarding yourself with a good breakfast can encourage you to eat less the night before.   A breakfast that includes a balance of all three macro-nutrients—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—helps to stabilize blood sugar, an antidote to overeating.


  • Lack of Investment in Food. Our modern, urban lifestyle, supermarkets, and commercial farming have severed our former connection with food production.  The time-consuming process and physical labor involved in raising animals, gardening/farming, preserving, and preparing foods naturally engenders a sense of gratitude, connection and conservation.  Our ancestors ate sparingly the backyard chicken they called by name.  We have no such connection to a commercial pizza or fast food.   What is inexpensive in both time and money is easy to over-consume. Our lack of connection with food extends to our lack of investment in family meal hour:  66% of all Americans regularly eat dinner in front of the television.17  When possible, shop and prepare your own meals.  It is the first step in knowing where your food comes from.


  • Inactivity. Hours spent watching television is one of the best barometers of inactivity.  Except for sleep and yet with none of sleep’s intrinsic benefits, nothing rivals TV as a depressant of metabolic rates and calorie burning.   TV also engenders the “need” for junk food.   TV and assembly-line food make it easy to unconsciously surrender our autonomy, independence, and creativity. The typical American child spends 1,500 hours a year watching TV, far more than the 900 hours spent annually in the classroom.   TV’s impact starts early, with preschoolers serving as a prime advertising target:  An average 200 junk food, fast food, and toy ads are shown in the four hours of Saturday morning cartoons.18    To prevent “mindless” viewing that can lead to cravings for junk food and overeating, plan TV time—without a plan, it is easy to passively surrender to television.


  • Supersizing. We see this everyday:  A bottle/can of Coke is taken today to be 12 or 20 ounces, but before 1955, Coke was sold only in bottles that were 6 ½ ounces in size.   If buying in bulk makes sense for economy, then try to use small plates; chew well; take time to truly enjoy your food; and be grateful—think of all the man-hours given by others to bring food to the table.


General Strategies for Controlling Blood Sugar

The three general principles I believe to be the most important for controlling blood sugar are:


(1) Plan meals to balance carbohydrates with adequate “healthy” proteins and fats (proteins and fats moderate the blood sugar impact of carbohydrates).  A good balance is one-third of all calories in a meal from each of the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats;


(2) Buy and consume whole, “real” nutrient-dense/antioxidant-rich, water-soluble/high-fiber plant foods—legumes, nuts, seeds, apples, and vegetables—the superior foods to control blood sugar;

(3) Take time for moderate aerobic and weight-bearing exercise to build the body’s capacity to uptake blood sugar.  Lift and move. Lifting weights and some form of modest aerobic exercise can prevent insulin resistance and fat storage.  This is because aerobic exercise makes the body more sensitive to insulin, while weight training builds muscle mass to take up blood glucose rather than having the body store this energy as fat.  The average person loses 30 percent of their muscle cells by age 70, and this loss of muscle results in a slower metabolism, insulin resistance, increased body fat, reduced hormone production, and bone loss.19  Lifting weights can prevent much of this attrition.


When we follow these simple concepts to control blood sugar, the rest often takes care of itself.



Specific Strategies for Controlling Blood Sugar [Note: Particle size, ripeness, cooking, and the temperature of foods when they are consumed all affect the blood sugar effects of foods.]

  • Plan to incorporate plant and animal proteins; nuts and seeds; olive, coconut, and flax oils; and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables into carbohydrate meals. In combination, these provide fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids–which help protect against diabetes.  Proteins and fats have a flat-to-negative glycemic index so they help ameliorate the metabolic impact of high-glycemic foods.  They are the most effective way to reduce the glycemic impact of carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates and contribute to the blood sugar effect, so they are not such good buffers.)  Avoid excessive amounts of protein, however, which can depress metabolism,20 while great quantities of fats and proteins can lead to insulin resistance.


  • Use tart (not sweet varieties, e.g., balsamic) vinegar in meals to lower the blood sugar impact of carbohydrates.  Think dressed green salads or pickles on sandwiches as alternate ways to incorporate vinegar into a meal.  Tart vinegar can lower the glycemic index of a meal by some 33%.21


  • Add whole grains when baking with flour or cooking with fractured grains.  This will lower the glycemic effect and add crunch and interest.  Note:  Regular whole wheat flour (if not stone-ground), while delivering more nutrition than white flour, has an equivalent GI because it is ground to the same fine particle size as white flour.22 Grains must be whole, not refined—only when the outer bran husk is intact can this natural protection buffer the inner starch from enzymatic activity to slow the conversion of starch to glucose.


  • Bake with stone-ground flour rather than commercial flours that are milled at high temperatures.  Stone-ground flour preserves amylase inhibitors for a lower GI. ( Snow, P. & O’Dea, K. (1981).))
  • If you can, consider adding sourdough when baking.   If not, when shopping choose traditional sourdough made without commercial yeast. The yeasts and bacteria in sourdough consume some of the bread flour’s carbohydrate, reducing the glycemic effect by roughly one-third compared to yeasted bread.23


  • When soaking grains to reduce phytate try to add a fat or protein to reduce the glycemic effect.  (Soaking reduces phytic acid, a mineral inhibitor, but soaking before cooking also raises the glycemic index.)


  • Eat foods rich in chromium. Chromium is a core component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) that regulates carbohydrate metabolism and proper insulin function to support healthy blood glucose levels.  Chromium is widely recognized in the treatment of diabetes and hypoglycemia, but it is also important in the prevention of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease because of the damage to arteries brought about by high blood sugar.  Chromium levels decrease with age, with depleted soil conditions, and with the modern diet weighted to refined grains.  Due to our diet of sugars and refined flour and the low levels of chromium in our soil, one-quarter to one-half of all Americans are deficient in chromium, the highest rate of any country.  Food sources of chromium include:  brewer’s yeast, beef, liver, whole wheat, rye, oysters, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat germ, eggs, chicken, apples, butter, bananas, and spinach.24 Magnesium and vanadium are also important minerals for proper insulin function.


  • Cook with herbs and spices to help control blood sugar:  Those that increase insulin sensitivity (caper, cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger); mimic insulin (caper, coriander, garlic); and encourage insulin production (coriander).25  Other helpful herbs and spices include sage, rosemary, marjoram, tarragon, cloves, allspice,26 cayenne, and turmeric.   All perform different functions so it is best to use a combination.  If you choose only one, think cinnamon.  Cinnamon, which is rich in phenols, lowers blood sugar in three ways:  by delaying gastric emptying; enhancing insulin sensitivity; and increasing antioxidant defenses.27  One daily gram of cinnamon can reduce the blood glucose of diabetics by 30%.28


  • Be aware that particle size, the degree of cooking, the ripeness and specific variety of a food, and the temperature of a meal when consumed affect the glycemic index and metabolic effect of foods.


  • Eat pizza sparingly. Pizza elevates blood sugar longer than almost any other food.  While the exact reasons are not clear, research indicates that a pizza meal causes blood sugar to continue to rise and remain elevated from four to nine hours after eating—far more than a high-glycemic control test meal of equivalent macronutrient composition.


  • Take care with alcohol. Alcohol has no carbohydrates so it does not appear on GI listings—its GI=0.  However, alcohol provides 7 empty calories per ounce, almost twice the 4 calories an ounce of proteins and carbohydrates.   Because the body burns calories from alcohol before it uses those from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, consuming alcohol with a meal means that more food-derived calories are likely to be stored of fat.   Alcohol, by clouding judgment and setting up craving for carbohydrates and rich foods, can also lead to overeating.  The University of California, Berkeley [Wellness Letter, August 2004] sees an additional risk:   “Under certain circumstances, alcohol can actually cause a low blood sugar reaction…when the body wants to release stored glycogen (sugar) to combat low blood sugar levels, alcohol prevents it from doing so.”  On a positive note, some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption can enhance insulin sensitivity in diabetic subjects.29  In sum, drinking beyond a moderate level is not a good practice for controlling blood sugar.


A Final Comment—Genetics and the Importance of Diet and Lifestyle to Prevent Diabetes and Obesity

Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans have a greater genetic tendency to develop type-2 diabetes, but diet and lifestyle factors are a potent way to override this genetic bias:  studies suggest that lifestyle changes can reduce the genetic risk of diabetes by 58%.30


The Pima Indians are a case in point:  The Pimas of Arizona have the highest rate of diabetes and obesity of any group worldwide.  They, like many Americans, consume convenience foods and live a relatively sedentary lifestyle.  In contrast, the Pima Indians in Mexico rarely suffer from diabetes or obesity—they weigh on average 60 pounds less than the Pimas of Arizona.  To subsist, the Pimas of Mexico who are not exposed to modern conveniences must carry water long distances and grow and prepare their own food.  Their active lifestyle and diet appears to prevent their genetic tendency for diabetes to express itself.   Several large sample-size scientific studies also point to the effectiveness of dietary and lifestyle change–suggesting that proper diet and lifestyle are twice as effective as drugs in reducing the risk of diabetes and with none of the serious side effects associated with drug treatment.




Recipes for Controlling Blood Sugar:

Raw Rolled Oat Banana Cookies

Rolled oats are metabolized at less than a third the rate of cooked oat porridge (Snow and O’Dea, 1981).  The use of raw oats, banana as the sweetening agent, and nuts all contribute to a cookie that is delicious, yet relatively low on the glycemic scale.

3 ripe bananas

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup dried fruits such as cranberries or raisins

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

1 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mash the bananas, then add the other ingredients and mix.  Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes.


Wild Rice Muffins—an example of adding whole grains to baked goods.

1 cup cooked wild rice

2 eggs, lightly beaten

5 T. melted butter, coconut oil, or oil of your choosing

1 cup milk

1 ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 T. baking powder

2 T. sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a 12-muffin tin.
  2. Stir the wild rice together with the egg, oil, and milk in a mixing bowl.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in another bowl.  Stir until well mixed.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients, gradually and thoroughly, until blended.
  5. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups.  Bake 15-18 minutes, until lightly browned.


Cinnamon Stick Stewed Fruits

This is a simple favorite of my family.  Cinnamon-stewed fruits are a regular standby in our refrigerator.  They go with cooked cereals, breads, muffins, custards, topped with nuts, or eaten alone.  The cinnamon, a powerful antibacterial and antioxidant, can significantly reduce the glycemic effect of foods (discussed above).

4 large, 4” cinnamon sticks, or the equivalent

1 pound each pitted dried prunes, Turkish apricots, and dried organic apples, washed well.

In a large sauce pan, place cinnamon sticks and the dried fruits.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes, cover, and let set until cool.   Refrigerate.   Cinnamon helps preserve fruit for days.  The stewed fruits and juice become more delicious and seasoned with time.

Copyright 2011


  1. On a scale of 0-100 with pure glucose as 100, the glycemic index (GI) of a plain bagel is 72; bran flakes, 74; and instant oatmeal, 82.  Studies suggest that the body responds to oat porridge similarly to white bread:  Liljeber, Granfeldt & Bjorck (1996), “Products based on a high fiber barley genotype, but not on common barley and oats, lower postprandial glucose and insulin responses in healthy humans.”  American Institute of Nutrition, 126, 458-466. []
  2. Elson Haas, Staying Healthy With Nutrition, 178.  Side comment:  With the expiration of Lipitor patents, we wonder if high-glycemic foods will be seen more and more as the cause of arterial damage, with cholesterol acting simply as the body’s patching agent—are we blaming the band-aid for the underlying cut? []
  3. Total calories per capita has not increased since 1965 nor in the past decade.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and []
  4. and []
  5. []
  6. American Diabetes Association []
  7. []
  8. Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, “Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970-2005; March, 2008. []
  9. Dairy fat (butter) is, along with red meat, essentially the only source of trans-palmitoleate, which studies show has a strong link to smaller waist measures and a reduced incidence of diabetes… []
  10. []
  11. Derived from data, ERS, USDA (2008). []
  12.  ERS, USDA (2008). []
  13. S.S Elliott et al., “Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome.” Am J Clin Nutr 2002 Nov: 76 (5): 91. []
  14. They are absorbed directly through the intestinal wall rather than needing to be carried by the blood stream to the liver.  Butter is a 4-carbon short-chain fatty acid that is quickly burned as energy.  Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid that raises body temperature and the metabolic rate, burning more energy than it supplies.  See Mary Enig, Know Your Fats and Eat Fat, Lose Fat, 61 & 109. []
  15. Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, 74. []
  16. Lioger, et al., …Insulin responses and satiety of healthy subjects.  Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28 (1), 30-36. And Ludwig, D.S, Majzoub, J.A., Al-Zahrani, A., Dallal, G.E,, Blanco, I, & Roberts, S.B.  High-glycemic index foods, overeating, and obesity. Pediatrics, 102 (3), e26. []
  17. []
  18. []
  19. J.E. Williams, Prolonging Health, 68. []
  20. Broda Barnes, Hope for Hypoglycemia, 33.  In a personal experiment, Broda Barnes tried two separate diets—a high-protein and then a high-fat diet.  On the high-protein diet (100 grams/day) with low carbohydrate and fat, he had to restrict his daily calorie intake to 2000/day to avoid gaining weight.  In contrast, on a high-fat diet (100 grams/day with only 60 grams of protein), he could eat 3000 calories/day while maintaining a stable weight. []
  21. H G Lijeberg & I Bjorck (1998).  Delayed gastric emptying rate may explain improved glycaemia in healthy subjects to a starchy meal with added vinegar.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52 (5): 368-71. []
  22. Snow, P. & O’Dea, K. (1981).  Factors affecting the rate of hydrolysis of starch in food.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 34 (12), 2721-2727.  []
  23. HG Liljeberg, Lonner & Bjorck (1995).  Sourdough fermentation or addition of organic acids or corresponding salts to bread improves nutritional properties of starch in healthy humans.  Journal a Nutrition, 125 (6):1503-11. []
  24.  Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition. []
  25. []
  26. R.P. Dearlove, et al., Inhibition of protein glycation by extracts of culinary herbs and spices.  Journal of Medicinal Food, 11 (2) 2008, 275-281. []
  27.  RP Dearlove, et al. (2008). []
  28. []
  29. AE Bantle, et al. (2008).  Metabolic effects of alcohol in the form of wine in persons with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  Metabolism. Feb; 57 (2): 241-5. []
  30. Pizzorno and Murray, Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1614-6. []

Soft Drinks and Children/Teens

Caffeine and soft drinks are not benign, particularly for children and teens with the brain and bones still in the growth and development stage.


In recent decades, the greatest increase, some 70 percent, in caffeine use has been by children and teens.   Caffeinated sodas are not just the ones that are brown in color such as Coke and Pepsi.   Twelve ounces of Mountain Dew (a favorite of three and four-year-olds) has 54 mg of caffeine and a Sunkist Orange has 41 mg—both exceed the 35 mg in a 12 ounce Coke Classic.


Caffeine, a psychoactive drug that excites the central nervous system, is the most popular of all neuro-stimulants.  Studies illustrate that consuming caffeine during periods of rapid brain development in the childhood and teen years can have long-lasting effects on brain function.  Caffeine, by exciting the central nervous system, can act as a gateway to addictive drugs and other stimulants such as nicotine. The caffeine in soft drinks is also to be avoided because of its heavy pesticide load:  it is the residual product from decaffeinating coffee, with coffee being the most heavily sprayed food/beverage commodity in the world.


Caffeine and sugar, as delivered in soft drinks, are self-reinforcing.  Have you noticed how a donut or a piece of pie demands a cup of coffee?  Children and adults prefer caffeinated to non-caffeinated beverages—from an early age, we teach our children to seek the “buzz” delivered by the combination of sugar and caffeine.  Soft drinks not only disrupt sleep, but also make children more jittery, anxious, and impulsive, to say nothing of the implications for diabetes, obesity, and the health of bones and teeth.


Sugar activates the “natural reward” centers in the brain in a similar fashion to nicotine and cocaine.  Caffeine in combination with sugar works to stimulate the release of dopamine, thus reinforcing the natural reward of consuming sugar in combination with caffeine.  When we give caffeinated, sweetened soft drinks to children and teens in the years when the brain is developing rapidly, we program them to rely upon the psychoactive “lift” of caffeine and sugar.


Preliminary research suggests that soft drinks may be a gateway to substance abuse (more research on caffeine, sugar, and teens is now underway).  What we do know already is that soft drinks pave the way in later years to diabetes and obesity.  It is alarming that the typical American drinks more than 600 12-ounce servings a year (almost 2 cans per day), while the average male teenager daily consumes over one-half gallon of soft drinks.1


Think of giving your children water when they are thirsty and pack juicy fresh fruits for energy.  My empirical experience when shopping suggests that water is actually more expensive than soft drinks—what does that tell us of the cheap ingredients in soft drinks and the efforts of soft drink companies to “lock us in” to a habit that can be debilitating?   Soft drinks are not benign.  When you and your children are on the go and thirsty, if you do not bring water from home, it is well worth the greater price to buy bottled water.  Drinking water is a one of the best investments in long-term health.


Copyright 2011

  1. National Soft Drink Association []

Sea Salt and the Salt “Problem”

Sea salt and table salt.  All the sea salt in the world, whether found deep within mountain ranges, from salt flats, or evaporated by sun and wind in salt marshes, has its origin in the oceans and seas.   Ocean water contains the complete array of earth elements, more than eighty in all.  Water—oxygen and hydrogen—accounts for 95% of the oceans and seas, with minerals explaining the remaining 5%.  Of these, the vast majority is salt, the chemical sodium chloride.


We think of salt as sodium, but it actually contains more chloride:  Excluding sea salt’s moisture content, which generally runs about 5%, natural sea salts are roughly 54% chlorine, 30% sodium, 4% magnesium, 2 ½ % sulfur, and 1% for each calcium and potassium.  The remaining 7%-8% is comprised of 75 or so other minerals and trace minerals.1  As Mark Bitterman notes, nine of the major eleven elements of the body are found in the primary eleven elements of the oceans and seas.    The minerals in sea salt, unlike table salt, not only appear in a similar ratio to be the body, but they are also balanced and in a natural form that is easy to assimilate.


Table salt, in contrast, is highly refined salt; the moisture and complementary minerals are removed and anti-caking agents are added back for easy pouring.  Most mass-produced salt is used for hundreds of industrial purposes.  Only three percent of worldwide industrial salt production goes to food, with a large share simply used for road de-icing as well as industrial and chemical uses.2


Table salt, then, is sea salt that has been refined (heated to temperatures as high as 1200F degrees) and bleached to create dehydrated white, uniform crystals of pure sodium chloride.  Table salt, NaCl, is similar to white sugar, C,H2,O :  both are pure chemicals with the trace elements and moisture extracted.  To refi salt, the FDA allows companies such as Morton to add up to 2 percent anti-caking agents, needed to prevent the fine uniform crystals from clumping.   Additives usually include the anti-caking agents, calcium silicate, sodium ferrocyanide, or magnesium carbonate; and, less often, aluminum calcium, ammonium citrate, ferric silicon dioxide, magnesium silicate, propylene glycol, silicate, sodium aluminosilicate, and calcium phosphate.3 Other ingredients called humectants may also be added to prevent the anti-caking agents themselves from clumping and caking.


Iodine is a key mineral needed to prevent goiter.  It is naturally present in sea salt, but because it is a highly unstable element, it quickly evaporates away during the industrial refining process.  To prevent goiter, iodine (as potassium iodide, potassium iodate, sodium iodide, or sodium iodate) is often added back to table salt after refining is complete.  Sugar as dextrose and/or other ingredients such as sodium thiosulfate, sodium carbonate, or sodium bicarbonate4 are then added to stabilize iodine and make it bind to refined salt’s fine uniform crystals.  The popular Morton brand of table salt, much of which is produced from San Francisco Bay brine, is generally iodine as potassium iodide with the anti-caking agent, calcium silicate.


As mentioned above, sea salt is a whole food that is balanced to meet the body’s general mineral needs and in a form that can be readily assimilated.  After eons when people thrived on natural sea salt, we might wonder how the body is able to adapt in such a short time to modern table salt.  While part of our modern salt cravings may relate to our desire for grounding in a quick-paced, electric smog, stressful world, I suspect another part of our salt cravings may be rooted our body’s search for the essential minerals in sea salt that are refined away.  And, perhaps part of the reason that as a nation our health is suffering from consuming too much salt is that table salt creates imbalances in the body—the body may not be able to handle concentrated sodium chloride that lacks the complementary minerals of natural sea salt.  We can never fully know the implications for the body of eating fractured versus whole foods.  But, before we consider the problems related to salt consumption, let’s take a brief look at the important role that natural sea salt plays to promote good health.


Some important functions of salt in the body.  Using an Eastern lens, Chinese Five-Phase Theory5 tells us that salt is associated with the water element; the winter season of the year; the kidneys, bladder, and adrenals; the bones and teeth, and the ears and hearing; and, with will power and vitality and, conversely fear.  Like winter, salt is cooling and contracting, and its direction of energy in the body is inward and downward.   Salt crystals bring clarity and focus to thinking.  Salt moistens and softens; it stimulates the kidneys and adrenals (salty foods can perk us up when we are tired).  Mineral-rich salt strengthens the bones and teeth when used moderately, but in excess salt weakens the bones and the kidneys.6


Salt brings balance to the body in many ways.  It is contractive to counter the many expansive foods in our modern diet—refined sugar, refined flour products, sugary drinks, and alcohol.  As a contractive food, it may seem surprising that salt also goes well with other contractive foods like eggs and meat.  The reason is that meat and eggs, as well as grains and beans, are acid-forming foods.  Salt with its rich mineral composition is an alkalizing antidote; it also sharpens the taste of these otherwise bland foods.


So, apart from its ability to preserve food, taste is the obvious reason we put salt on the food we eat.  We are programmed to like the salty taste.   We crave “salty” second only to “sweet.”  Salt enhances “sweet” and tempers the flavors “bitter” and “sour.”  Salting home-cooked food also makes sense because salt aids digestion (chloride and hydrochloric acid), particularly of heavy proteins and starchy foods, potatoes and grains.   Finally, like sea vegetables and when used in cooking or at the table, sea salt can add minerals to vegetables and other home-cooked whole foods.


The Western lens and modern science adds additional perspective about salt:  Chemistry tells us that salt combines with water to create vital electrolytes needed to conduct electricity for cellular communication and brain/neurological function.  Salt helps us focus; it helps us think.


Both the sodium and chloride in salt perform other vital functions in the body.  The three major fluid systems of the body, the blood, lymph, and extracellular systems are salty and require salt for normal functioning.   Sodium is needed for the regulation of many body functions—for the nervous system; muscle contraction and proper heart function; fluid balance; digestion and the absorption of nutrients; the construction of some hormones; and, the regulation of blood pressure, to list a few.


Unlike sodium, chloride, the dominant component in sea salt, cannot be obtained through other foods.7 But, like sodium, chloride is an electrolyte supporting nerve and muscle function.  It is needed in a myriad of other body functions:    Chloride helps maintain proper blood pressure, volume and Ph balance; and, it supports digestion and immunity.


The Salt “Problem”

If you have read this far, you know by now that I believe a key problem with salt is the kind we use.  After all, we consume no more salt (in fact less) than a century ago, so why should salt be a problem?8. Granted, some of our modern health problem with salt may be related to lifestyle factors and to our potassium-deficient dietary habits (see potassium/sodium discussion that follows).  But shouldn’t we also question how the body reacts to pure sodium chloride as a substitute for the mineral-rich sea salts that have always been part of traditional diets?


We are advised today to remove the salt shaker from the table.  Yet, the shaker contributes ever so modestly to our salt consumption.    The problem appears to be not so much the salt shaker but that we purchase so much food that is prepared by others.  These commercial foods are designed to enhance taste and pleasure (blending salt, sugar, and fat) so that we come back for more, again and again.   When we purchase foods prepared by others, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, or fast food establishments, we relinquish our control over our salt intake.  Statistics regarding our modern food habits help to put the salt shaker into perspective:


  • About 10%  of our sodium intake comes naturally and directly through the whole foods we eat (largely from meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish; sea vegetables; and high-sodium vegetables like celery, beets, and carrots…see Table 1 that follows);
  • A little more than 5% is added through home cooking;
  • Roughly 75%-80% of the salt we consume is hidden in processed and restaurant foods.
  • Only 5% is added as a condiment at the table, mostly as refined table salt from a shaker ((My blended estimates from figures quoted in The Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1763.))


Salt warnings are generally based on scientific studies that show a link between salt and high blood pressure (salt helps to regulate blood volume, blood pressure, and the flexibility of blood vessels9 ) and, to a lesser degree, a link between salt and cancer.  But these studies do not use sea salt for testing.  We do not know if sea salt would lead to salt sensitivity and hypertension in the same way that table salt appears to.  In defense of this research, I have to allow that, since table salt is what we generally consume, it is the logical choice for research.  But should the finding of scientific studies that use table salt be extrapolated to naturally-harvested sea salts?  And, shouldn’t conclusions about salt intake also be made within the context of a person’s overall diet:  in particular, how much potassium a person consumes relative to sodium?


Sodium in the context of potassium we consume.   If you recall from high school science, the body needs to maintain potassium and sodium (the sodium/potassium pump) in a delicate balance to transport fluids in and out of every cell, to create energy for cellular/neurological communication, and generally to sustain life.  Leaving science aside, it is sufficient here to say simply that the body needs adequate potassium to balance sodium.


Many scientific studies suggest that a diet high in sodium and low in potassium is linked to high blood pressure, cancer, and cardiovascular disease and that a diet high potassium and low in sodium can significantly reduce the risk of these diseases.  While excessive sodium and deficient potassium often lead to high blood pressure, particularly for people who are salt-sensitive,10 studies also suggest that simply cutting back on sodium does not go far enough.  To lower blood pressure, lowering sodium intake must be coupled with higher levels of potassium.11


Unfortunately, for most people the potassium/sodium ratio is out of balance both due to how much salt (hidden in foods) we consume, and to how little potassium (as we skimp on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables) makes it into our diet.  Experts believe that we need about 1 gram of sodium per day, yet the typical American consumes 10 times this amount.12 Both epidemiological and experimental research suggest that for good health, a person’s potassium-to-sodium (K:Na) ratio should be at least 5:1.  For most Americans (from our reliance upon highly salted prepared products and restaurant foods), this ratio is tipped 10-fold in the opposite direction:  The typical American’s potassium/sodium ratio is 1:2, rather than >5:1 as recommended by health professionals.13


Table 1 on the following page is my effort to illustrate the favorable potassium/sodium relationship that results naturally from a whole foods diet:  All unprocessed foods—fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, as well as meat, poultry, and fish that I randomly sampled —have favorable K:Na ratios.  The opposite is true of all processed foods—they all contain far too much sodium relative to potassium.  A bagel, for example, with only 74 milligrams of potassium and 360 milligrams of sodium would have to have >1800 milligrams (360×5) of potassium to bring it to the >5:1 recommended guideline.  Thus, it is easy to see how consuming refined carbohydrates and other processed foods can quickly lead to potassium deficiencies.


Table 1 illustrates several specific ideas:


  • Most fruits and vegetables are extremely rich in potassium with potassium/sodium ratios that are many multiples above the K:Na guideline of  >5:1.
  • While most fruits have very high K:Na ratios because they have little or no sodium, this is not the case with all vegetables.  Some vegetables like celery and beets are not only rich sources of potassium, but they also have a meaningful sodium component.  This explains the generally lower K:Na ratios of these and other vegetables compared to most fruits.
  • Dried fruits like raisins and peaches are particularly high in potassium.  Through a process called biological transmutations, a raisin has 4-5 times the potassium of a fresh grape.  Drying fruits also elevates sodium levels, however, so that the K:Na ratios of raisins and dried peaches are no more favorable than for their fresh counterparts.


Table 1:  Potassium/Sodium Content of Selected Foods

(milligrams per serving)

Food Portion Potassium Sodium Potassium/Sodium
Apple 1 159 1 159
Avocado 1 1204 21 57
Banana 1 451 1 451
Grapes 1 cup 296 3 99
Raisins 1 cup 1362 47 29
Orange 1 237 0 *
Peach 1 171 0 *
Peach, Dried 10 Halves 1295 9 144
Asparagus 1 cup 404 2 202
Beets 1 cup 440 98 4
Broccoli 1 cup 286 24 12
Carrots 1 cup 356 38 9
Celery 1 cup 340 106 3
Kale 1 cup 299 29 10
Romaine 1 cup 162 4 41
Peas 1 cup 357 7 51
Baked Potato 1 782 6 130
Winter Squash 1 cup 945 2 473
Yams 1 cup 1508 17 89
Legumes, Beans, Grains, Seeds    
Garbanzos, Dried 1 cup 1516 52 29
Kidney Beans (Canned, in Water) 1 cup 629 6 104
Brown Rice 1 cup 420 16 26
Sunflower Seeds 1 cup 1334 4 334
Poultry, Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy        
Chicken Breast ½ 319 91 4
Hamburger 4 oz. 295 78 4
Beef Frankfurter 1 71 461 -6x
Flounder 3 oz. 307 69 4
Salmon 3 oz. 417 37 11
Tuna (in Water) 1 can 518 588
Eggs 1 65 69
Yogurt, Plain 1 cup 351 105 3
Prepared Foods  
Bagel 1 74 360 -5x
Corn  Flakes 1 ¼ cup 26 351 -14x
Cake Donut 1 29 160 -5x
Cheerios 1 ¼ cup 101 307 -3x
Chicken Broth 1 cup 210 776 -3x
Black Bean Soup 1 cup 1198 273 -4x
Vegetable Soup 1 cup 823 209 -4x

Source:  Pathways4Health, computed from the  Nutrition Almanac by Lavon Dunne.


  • Other plant foods such as whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are rich sources of potassium.
  • Animal flesh is also a good source of potassium and, while also a good source of sodium, it has a healthy K:Na ratio.  This is also true of most fish, with the exception of tuna.
  • The natural sodium in animal-based foods explains why early hunter/nomads did not need to search for salt as did later agrarian cultures…animal flesh provided the salt needed for survival.

Obviously, what Table 1 illustrates is  that the way to boost potassium relative to sodium is to prepare food at home whenever possible.  If you do not cook, try to consume large quantities of fruits and vegetables.  When shopping for packaged foods in the grocery store, read labels for both the sodium and the potassium content.  Become familiar with foods with a favorable potassium/sodium profile.  Many experts believe that boosting potassium relative to sodium can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cancer.  Potassium is one of the keys reasons that anti-cancer diets stress consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables  across a color spectrum.


And, a final comment on salt and health:  Recognizing the importance of sodium in the context of potassium intake, it seems logical that to interpret any study about salt and high blood pressure/cardiovascular disease, or salt and cancer, we need to know not only a subject’s salt intake, but also how much potassium a person consumes.


Copyright 2011

  1. Calculated from Mark Bitterman, Salted, 33. []
  2. Bitterman, 25. []
  3. Bitterman, 191. []
  4. Bitterman, 191. []
  5. See []
  6. See Paul Pitchford, 196-204. []
  7. Sally Fallon Morell, “The Salt of the Earth:  Why Salt is Essential to Health and Happiness,” 31. []
  8. Fallon, 30 []
  9. Fallon, 31. []
  10. Salt sensitivity varies with the individual and seems driven by genetic makeup, age, stress, exercise, and the relationship between sodium and potassium in the foods that a person consumes. []
  11. Adequate levels of calcium, vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B6, and omega-3 oils also appear to be helpful.  For a discussion and bibliography of journal studies, see Joseph Pizzorno, Jr. and Michael T. Murray,Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1762-1767. []
  12. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, 642. []
  13. Pizzorno and Murray, 1763. []

Artificial Sweeteners

Today we must deal with a vast and confusing world of sweeteners and sweetener combinations. Store shelves offer a variety of natural and artificial sweeteners, as well as a wide array of packaged/processed food products that incorporate them. Sometimes these sweeteners also include sugar alcohols, an effort by food companies to take advantage of the way they can be combined for synergistic and offsetting/ complementary effects (since sugar alcohols mute the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners). Each category of sweetener, as well as each specific product, differs in terms of how it is made, how it is metabolized, and how it affects the body.



Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), aspartame (Nutrasweet and Equal), and Acesulfame-K (Sunett and Sweet One) are made by chemical (not food) companies. Like many artificial food colorings and flavorings, they are synthetic products derived chemically from decayed petroleum and natural gas by-products.1 Constructed from “dead” underground matter, as opposed to living, organic, above-ground foods, these products are not something Nature programmed our bodies to recognize. Monsanto manufactures saccharin and aspartame (Monsanto bought Searle, the company that originally discovered aspartame), while Celanese, maker of synthetic fibers, created Acesulfame-K. Even sucralose (Splenda), which is the only low-calorie sweetener made from sugar, is a chemically-manipulated product created in the lab. Sucralose/Spenda seems no more deserving of the “natural” label than its other no-calorie cousins.



Rather new to the market are the sugar alcohols, like xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol. These are created chemically by hydrogenating a type of carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols are becoming very popular because they can be combined with artificial sweeteners to help mask the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. (We might wonder what our body is trying to tell us by the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. Perhaps it isour taste buds rebelling to something so foreign. Little wonder when we consider how they are made:saccharin, by combining anthranilic acid, nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, and chorine with ammonia; and,aspartame by joining the isolated amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine with the alcohol, methanol.2 In addition, because sugar alcohols do not feed oral bacteria, they can be used in chewing gum and other sweets without fostering tooth decay.


According to a 2007 survey by the market-research firm Packaged Facts, almost half of all households in America purchase and consume no-calorie sweeteners. Beyond this direct use, Americans consume more artificial sweeteners, of course, through packaged-processed foods where chemical sweeteners are hidden either singularly or in combination. One has to wonder what these chemically-manipulated sweeteners, some of which are petroleum-based, do to our systems. How does the body recognize them? Or, deal with them?


…And Weight Control Many people use artificial sweeteners to try to control weight. Yet, research suggests this can be a self-defeating strategy: A 2005 study by the University of Texas found that the use of diet drinks correlated with weight gain, as the sweet taste set off a craving for energy-rich foods: “People think they can just fool the body. But maybe the body isn’t fooled. If you are not giving your body that food energy you promised it, maybe your body will retaliate by wanting more energy.”3



Animal studies appear to confirm the link between the use of artificial sweeteners and weight gain. The sweet taste triggers a release of insulin, creating a dip in blood sugar, and a subsequent craving for more calories to stabilize blood sugar levels. Prolonged use of artificial sweeteners leads to an increase in daily calories and weight gain, as well as a loss of the natural checking tendency to eat less at the next meal.4


Copyright 2009

  1. []
  2. See New York Times, Showdown at the Coffee Shop, 4/15/09 []
  3. []
  4. S.E. Seithers, A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by []

Sunscreens and Vitamin D

Sunscreen Safety and The Sun for Health

  • Summary and Conclusions
  • Overview
  • The Sun and Sunscreen Facts
  • The Sun and Sunscreen Safety
  • Sunshine, Vitamin D, and Health
  • Hormones and Full-Spectrum Light


For more about vitamin D and its co-factors vitamin A and K2, see Vitamin D in Winter and Throughout the Year.

 We are told to protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging UV rays.  But, the sun can also be an ally, particularly as we age, since moderate exposure can provide health benefits for the prevention of a variety of chronic diseases.   The fact that nature gave us melanin and few foods rich in vitamin D suggests that we are supposed to allow our skin some judicious sun exposure.

Most people experience 50% to 80% of their lifetime exposure to the sun before the age of 18.  Also, melanoma-type skin cancers are associated with severe sunburn experienced before the age of 20.1 But as we age, we especially require vitamin D to support health:  Vitamin D partners with calcium to support healthy bones and works as an ally in the prevention of depression, osteoporosis, cancers (since vitamin D regulates cell growth), diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and other inflammatory and chronic diseases.  The most natural, non-toxic form of vitamin D comes from the sun, because the body makes vitamin D from sunshine only in amounts that are needed. “…sunlight destroys any excess vitamin D that your body makes, so you could never become vitamin D intoxicated from sun exposure.”2


Obviously, balancing the risks and the benefits of exposure to the sun, particularly with the erosion of the ozone layer, is challenging.  This newsletter covers sunscreen safety, as well as the role of sunshine and vitamin D in supporting health.  Since interests vary, I have summarized and placed first  the key ideas of this newsletter to allow you to read selectively:

Summary…Sunshine Safety and Measures for Health?

  • Children and teens can err on the side of less sun and more sunscreens.  With children generally, we do not need to think too much about the sun as a healer of chronic disease.  These are the years to be sensible in order to avoid melanoma cancers in later life.  At the same time, through gradually building up to the sun, sunshine can be very helpful in reducing childhood asthma and wheezing disorders while it enhances growth, bone formation, energy, and mood.
  • For adults, sunlight is a major agent that can help prevent a host of chronic diseases. These are the years when the risk/reward appears to tip toward seeking moderate exposure to the sun…particularly since the seeds of melanoma skin cancer were already laid down during childhood.  On the positive side, moderate doses of sunshine can help protect against internal cancers and chronic, inflammatory diseases perhaps to outweigh the risks of skin cancers, many of which can be managed by periodic visits to the dermatologist, and through prudent year-round exposure to the sun and adequate antioxidant nutrition.  So, you may want to get 15-30 minutes of sun exposure and then apply sunscreen.  Since the face and head account for less than 10% of your total skin surface, applying a sunscreen to your face (especially in the summer) before going out in the sun can help prevent aging, while you absorb for a time helpful rays on exposed areas of other parts of your body before applying sunscreen.
  • No matter your age, build up with gradual exposure to the sun. Begin in the spring with 5-15 minutes, progressing to 30 minutes a day, exposing face and arms, when possible.  Darker skinned people with more melanin in their skin can handle more sun than those who are fair.
  • Eat nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich organic fruits and vegetables to boost your internal defenses to the sun’s free radical effects. Some experts believe that the sun’s rays work as a catalyst for the body to release internal toxins through the skin and that sunburn is exacerbated by nutritional deficiencies that leave the skin vulnerable to DNA mutations from radiation.3 So avoid foods with a heavy pesticide load, choosing instead fruits and vegetables that provide a rich array of antioxidants, as well as foods and supplements that provide high-quality oils.
  • Skin cancer versus chronic disease. While it is true that excessive exposure to the sun (you should never expose your skin to the point of burning or blistering) does increase your risk of basal and squamous cell skin cancer and can prematurely age the skin, sensible and frequent mild exposure, combined with an antioxidant-rich diet, may be the best strategy to avoid serious chronic diseases.
  • The most effective sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These two ingredients “create a physical barrier that sits on the skin’s surface and are not absorbed into the body.  They reflect light away from the skin, the way a mirror would.”  Try to look for a sunscreen that contains antioxidant vitamins like vitamins C and alpha-lipoic acid, which can be helpful in parrying any stray free-radical damage to the skin.4
  • To derive the most health benefits, frequent, short exposure to sunshine is best.  There are no set rules about how much sun is optimal, since this will vary with your age (vitamin D deficiency increases as we age), skin color (longer exposure for darker skin)5, with where you are located on the globe (less is needed at the equator and more toward the poles), and your state of health (sunshine can be helpful for depression, inflammation, high blood sugar, fragility fractures, chronic pain, PMS, psoriasis, and diabetes and obesity, to name just a few.
  • Light rays absorbed through the eyes stimulate the pineal gland (called the “third eye” because of its link to hormone function).  You might consider wearing glasses that allow UV light to pass through, and sunglasses tinted a neutral grey in order to decrease uniformly the amount of light across the broad spectrum.6
  • Scientific studies suggest that sunshine exposure both through the iris of the eye and on unprotected skin is important for general health.  For anyone with a chronic disease, sunshine can be used medicinally, often with very positive results.




It is vacation time again when the prior months of short-winter and rainy-spring days have depleted us of vitamin D, so we naturally crave the sun.  Weekends and vacations tempt us to stretch out to feel the sun’s energy penetrate our being.  Every cell of out body is equipped with vitamin D receptors, and perhaps this explains why we broadly sense its deeply restorative power.

Traditional cultures worshipped the sun.  Without building temples, we do too, in our own informal ways.  But what distinguished traditional cultures was their respect for the sun’s power:  Each spring, they adapted gradually to the sun, building up protective melanin in their skin7 to be able to tolerate its power well before the strongest days of summer.  They planned outdoor work to avoid the sun at its most intense hours.   Work started early in the day, with a break for a long noon meal and rest, before resuming again in mid-afternoon.  And, they ate whole foods rich in antioxidant protections.  To expose our “virgin” skin to the vacation sun lying flat on a reflective sandy beach or on a float in a pool while consuming the Standard American Diet is a modern phenomenon.

Today, while our need for vitamin D is as great as ever (we are more deficient in vitamin D than any other vitamin—some  80 percent of Americans, 90 percent of Hispanics, and 97 percent of African Americans are vitamin D deficient) we must worry about our exposure to the sun.  It is not only the erosion of the ozone layer, but also our modern indoor lifestyle that make us ill-suited for the quick shift to long vacation days in the sun, especially at a beach or pool.  The best strategy is to begin in the spring to work into the sun, if possible, by exposing your skin to the sun for 15-30 minutes a day, before or after the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.   This will help build your resilience and also your vitamin D levels.


The Sun and Sunscreen Facts:

Sunlight’s three rays, UVA, UVB, and UVC:


UVA radiation is a major concern because it easily travels through the ozone layer, with few sunscreens offering UVA protection.  UVA rays cause wrinkles and aging; damage the immune system; and foster skin cancers.


UVB rays appear less lethal than UVA rays since the ozone layer absorbs the majority and sunscreens provide protection.  Excessive UVB radiation that does get through causes sunburn, damage to the immune system, and can lead to cataracts and skin cancer.  But we do need some UVB exposure (which sunscreens parry) since it is UVB rays hitting unprotected skin that enables the body to create vitamin D.


UVC rays, the shortest wave length, can damage tissue, but they are largely screened out by the ozone layer.  We do need trace amounts for good health.  UVC rays perform a positive role in science and industry through their ability to kill bacteria.



Melanin in our skin helps to protect us against the sun.  Sunlight stimulates the body to make melanin, its effort to protect skin cells from ultraviolet radiation. The darker your skin, the more protection you have from the sun.  With increasing exposure to the sun, melanin builds up for many people, so the risk of sunburn often decreases as the summer season progresses:   Sun exposure that would burn us on Memorial Day or in June may be easy to handle in August, at least from the standpoint of sunburn.  People with a lighter natural skin color have less melanin and need to take more care.  The same is true of adults and children who have a lot of moles and/or a family history of skin cancers.


Babies and the Sun. Sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age.  Babies need to be kept out of the sun.  Their skin is very thin, they are not able to fend off toxins in sunscreens, and melanin has not built up in their skin to offer sun protection.


SPF (sun protection factor), a measure only of UVB protection. What is SPF?  If you would normally begin to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, then an SPF of 30 would theoretically allow you to be in the sun 300 minutes (10×30) before burning.  This calculation is an estimate and is influenced by whether you perspire, or engage in water sports, and by the strength of the sunlight.  There is little need to pay for higher than SPF 30, since higher levels add little additional protection.  (An SPF of 8 is enough to block out 93% of UVB radiation, while an SPF of 15 blocks 99%, so either would be sufficient to blunt the potential vitamin D benefits.)8


There is no such thing as a “sun block.”  The FDA plans to ban this label.  Also, tanning lotions and suntan products do not generally provide protection from UV rays.


The Sun and Sunscreen Safety

Activities that take you to the sun for prolonged periods of time are best handled by covering up with a hat and clothing, or seeking shade.  If you are engaged in sports that do not allow for cover, you will want  a good sunscreen that effectively blocks out damaging UVA and UVB rays AND does not breakdown in the sun.  Sunburn and skin damage are not the same issue…


Sunburn is caused by UVB rays, but skin is especially damaged by UVA rays that SPF ratings do not speak to.  Sunlight is made up of three types of radiation, so just because we use a sunscreen to prevent a tan or burn does not mean our skin is safe from the sun. (See discussion above.)


Unlike UVB, UVA rays leave no overt footprint.  But, UVA rays damage the skin and the immune system by intense exposure.   Few sunscreens protect against UVA.  The best protection is offered by zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  (Avobenzone and Merxoryl SX, two UVA-screening ingredients approved by the FDA, break down in the sun.)


A sunscreen’s “sun protection factor” (SPF) can be misleading:  It does indicate its protection against UVB tanning/burning rays, but little about its screening of UVA radiation.  Sunscreens that do protect against both are normally denoted as “UVA/UVB” or “broad spectrum” sunscreens, but the SPF number applies only to UVB radiation. There is no numerical rating system of UVA protection.


The United States is behind Europe in analyzing and authorizing sunscreen ingredients.9 With few effective agents, every year new ingredients appear, some of which break down in the sun and pose the risk of free radical damage, both to the skin and to the environment.  For every active sunscreen ingredient, there are 100 non-sunscreen “fillers.”  (Especially, BEWARE OF PARABEN.  It is a carcinogenic agent that is put in many skin creams and lotions for creamy smoothness.)  Some added ingredients react with each other.  Some are absorbed through the skin and enter the blood stream and can cause toxic effects, create allergic reactions, or disrupt hormone function.10 Testing is left to the manufacturer:  the government does not require companies to test their sunscreens for safety before they are allowed to be marketed on store shelves.

Without government sunscreen regulations, we are fortunate that in 2004, the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) stepped in to begin to test sunscreen ingredients and to offer advice and help.  In its 2010 update, only 39, or 8 percent of the 500 products tested were approved for use.  EWG bases its ratings on three criteria:


  1. Effectiveness at blocking both UVA and UVB radiation;
  2. Stability of the active ingredients when exposed to the heat and light of the sun; and
  3. Safety of the active and inactive ingredients with respect to the health risks of children and adults, alike.

Of the 500 major sunscreens tested by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), only 39, or eight percent of the total, tested well.  The following list includes the makers of some of the top brands of approved sunscreens:




All Terrain Jason Thinkbaby
Badger Kaban Thinksport
Beyond Coastal Little Forest Trukid
California Baby Loving Naturals UV Natural
Caribbean Solutions Purple Prairie Vanicream
Desert Essence Soleo

[Note that Banana Boat, Neutrogena, and Hawaiian Tropic are not on the approved list.]

Look for a sunscreen that provides protection at a 30+ SPF level (higher brings little additional advantage) and with the stability to stand up to the sun’s rays…the ones that contain zinc or titanium dioxide. Avoid oxybenzone (a synthetic estrogen) and retinyle palmitate. Retinyle palmitate (vitamin A) appears in some 40 percent of all sunscreens on the market this year and is believed to foster skin cancer when applied to skin that is then exposed to the sun.  To find the rating of your current sunscreen see .


Sunshine, Vitamin D, and Health

What is vitamin D? Vitamin D in its active form is actually a hormone.  Our body makes vitamin D in a multi-step process that involves the liver and kidney, but it all starts with unprotected skin absorbing the sun’s UVB rays.  Interestingly, vitamin D is the only vitamin that we can make all on our own,11 and virtually all the cells and tissues of the body [as well as the kidneys] have the capability to activate vitamin D.12


Vitamin D is important, particularly in infancy and childhood but also throughout life, for healthy bone formation, for mood, for a vibrant nervous system, for thyroid function and fertility, for normal blood clotting, for healthy skin and teeth, and even for the prevention of some forms of internal cancers.  Vitamin D also enhances vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as a host of minerals, especially calcium, phosphorus, and choline.  Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is stored and retained by the body over a prolonged period, even up to a year.  Vitamin D synthesis declines 80% between the winter and summer, but most people can gain enough sun exposure from spring, summer, and fall to store vitamin D in body fat for release during the winter months.13 So while we may enjoy warmth and the feeling of sunshine on our skin, it is not critical to experience the sun every day in order to be healthy.  The amount of sunshine on unprotected skin that is in keeping with good health depends on a person’s age and skin color, the time of year, the geographic latitude, as well as the person’s state of health (since the sun can be used medicinally for chronic illness).


Since vitamin D appears in only a few foods (cod liver oil, egg yolks, liver, and oily fish like salmon and sardines14 ), for all practical purposes, and unlike vitamins A, C, and E, it is hard to find adequate amounts of vitamin D through food.15 Also, vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means, when taken orally, it could accumulate to potentially toxic levels.16. Thankfully, this does not happen with sunshine, since our body is able to self-regulate to stop making vitamin D when it is no longer needed.  So, the very best source is from sunshine, and it is the only source that assures that vitamin D cannot build to toxic levels.


Vitamin D and Cancer.


Vitamin D helps the body utilize calcium to grow bone and support the normal functioning of the heart and nervous system.  Vitamin D also partners with calcium in its role to support cell differentiation when the body makes new ones.17 This explains vitamin D’s important role in the prevention and remission of internal cancers, particularly colon, breast, prostate, and ovary.18


In 1979, the DeLuca Group reported that “essentially every tissue in your body appeared to recognize the active form of vitamin D.” (Holick, 66.) This led to an understanding that “because every tissue and cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor, we think that vitamin D acts as a sentinel for your health in that it will control cell growth.  If the cell growth becomes malignant, it will either return the cell to normal or induce apoptosis, cell death.” (Holick, 69.)


As early as the 1940s, it was reported that it was easy to find and treat non-melanoma skin cancers and that this might be a reasonable risk/benefit strategy to seek some sun exposed in view of the danger of undetected internal cancers developing due to lack of exposure to sunshine.19 Research suggests that most people who develop skin cancer are not as inclined to develop deadly internal cancers.  And, even most melanomas occur in areas that receive virtually no sun exposure.20 In addition, most cancer patients are deficient in vitamin D and a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk by “30%-50% of developing some of the most deadly cancers.”21


Hormones and Full-Spectrum Light Through the Eye?

Full spectrum light through the iris of our eye stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands for proper hormone and brain function.  John Nash Ott was an early pioneer who explored more than 40 years ago the benefits of full-spectrum light.  He concluded that, “There are neuro-chemical channels from the retina to the pineal and pituitary glands, the master glands of the whole endocrine system that control the production and release of hormones. This regulates your body chemistry and its growth, all organs of your body, including your brain, and how they function.”22



Ott derived his conclusions from observing changes in reproduction in plants and animals when they were deprived of full-spectrum light.  He also discovered that his arthritis disappeared when he broke his glasses so his eyes were exposed to direct sunlight.  (UVB rays do not pass through glass.)  In 1959, Dr. Jane C. Wright, working at the Bellevue Memorial Medical Center in New York City, picked up on Ott’s work.  In her cancer research work, she instructed 15 women with cancer to be out in the sun as much as possible, without wearing sunglasses. At the end of the summer, 14 women experienced no growth of their tumors, some of which improved.  The one woman, who did not get better, misunderstood the instructions and wore her regular glasses in the place of sunglasses.


Whether the exposure of the eye to full spectrum light is a positive for health may be a function of a person’s diet and general nutrition.  It is possible that nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich whole foods equip the body to deal with the oxidative stress and free-radical effects of the sun’s rays, enabling the positive benefits of full-spectrum light to outweigh the negatives for people with a superior diet. There is much still to be explored in this field to better understand the potential health benefits of sunlight.


For some stimulating reading on this under-researched topic, see John Nash Ott’s, Health and Light (1973) and Light, Radiation and You:  How to Stay Healthy (1990).  For more information on vitamin D and cancer and chronic disease, see The UA Advantage and The Vitamin D Solution by Dr. Michael Holick, as well as his interview article in the May/June 2008 issue of Alternative Therapies.   Holick, a pioneer in vitamin D research, discovered the mechanisms for its synthesis in the body.  Continuing on the forefront of vitamin D/health research today, he is a voice worth listening to.




Copyright 2011


  1. []
  2. Alternative Therapies, May/June 2008. []
  3. The Gigantic Sunscreen Hoax. []
  4. Ralph W. Moss, PhD, “New Evidence that Vitamin D Fights Cancer.” []
  5. Archives of Internal Medicine []
  6. []
  7. Nature also designed humanity to accommodate to the sun’s rays.  People living at the equator had more melanin and therefore darker skin to provide greater protection than lighter-skinned peoples living in northern latitudes.  The same phenomenon applies to eye color, with people living at the equator having a naturally deep-brown/black iris, compared to light-blue tones of Scandinavians. []
  8. Holick,70. []
  9. The FDA has approved just 17 sunscreen ingredients, compared to 29 that are authorized in Europe.  We also permit just 4 UVA-screening chemicals.  The only two viable and effective UVA ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two stable components that do not penetrate healthy skin. []
  10. The EWG comments:  “ …consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are likely exposed to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients than consumers relying on zinc and titanium-based products.  Sunscreens without these two ingredients contain four times as many high-hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, disrupt human reproduction, or damage the growing brain of a child. []
  11. Jeremy Laurance, []
  12. Holick, 73. []
  13. Holick, 67. []
  14. Farm-raised salmon, fed a diet of pellets, has only 10%-25% of the vitamin D levels of wild salmon….Holick. []
  15. There is essentially no vitamin D from any dietary source.  It’s principally found in oily fish or in sun-dried mushrooms and in fortified foods, like milk and orange juice.  But there are only 100 international units (IU) in a glass of milk or vitamin D-fortified orange juice.  We now recognize that for every hundred IU you ingest, you raise your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [a precursor of the active hormone form] by 1 nonogram per milliliter (ng/mL).”…Holick. []
  16. This is a widely-recognized view.  However, Holick believes the risks are exaggerated, “Vitamin D intoxication is one of the most rare medical conditions worldwide.” 72.  Holick recommends “at least 400 IU for adults over the age of 50, and 600 IU for people aged 70 and older.  But now many experts agree that both children and adults need a minimum of 100 IU of vitamin D a day to maintain a blood level of 25-dydroxyvitamin D that we consider to be healthful, which is above 30 ng/mL.” []
  17. Suzanne VanDeGrift, “Calcium and Vitamin D:  Partners in Health.” []
  18. Laurance, []
  19. Holick, 68. []
  20. Holick, 74. []
  21. Holick, 73. []
  22. []

Is Sugar Toxic?

Supplement to May, 2011


A week ago this last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine carried an article by Gary Taubes, “Is Sugar Toxic?”   I wanted to write a supplementary comment to my May newsletter about Taubes’ piece because it fits so well, “Mapping Blood Sugar.”

Sugar is perhaps the most refined carbohydrate one can image.  To create sugar, sugar cane is stripped of 99% of its nutritive essence—minerals, fiber, and water.  The result is a simple chemical, sucrose, C12-H22-O11.  If you read any book on the history of sugar that describes the great endeavors of man to grow, harvest, and refine sugar—the capital necessary and the lives lost—it seems clear to me that nature never intended for us to consume sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the vast quantities that we do today.  [You may recall that it takes 17 feet of sugar cane to make one cup of sugar.]


The average American consumes 30 teaspoons of sugars/sweeteners a day, the equivalent of 477 calories, or about one-quarter of the total calorie intake based on a 2000-calorie diet.  Most of these calories are now consumed, largely through sweetened drinks and processed foods, as HFCS because it is cheaper than sugar.  The “outbreak” in recent decades of diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome traces not increased sugar consumption (it has declined 40% over the last 40 years) but rather the 400% increase since 1970 of HFCS as food companies have switched to HFCS from more-expensive sugar.


Several points in “Is Sugar Toxic?” specifically fit with our May newsletter and deserve mention.  The article links:

  • Sugar and HFCS to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer;
  • Sugar and HFCS to “fatty liver” and insulin resistance;
  • The speed and quantity of fructose consumption (as in a soft drink) with stress to the liver and the conversion to fat:

“The fructose component of sugar and HFCS is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body.  Consuming sugar (frucotose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose)….The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose…[it appears from animal research] that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat.  This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance…”

Click “Is Sugar Toxic?”

I also wrote a 3-part series on sugar, April-June 2009, which is archived on the Newsletter tab of my website.  These articles can also be accessed by clicking the following links:


April’09:  Sugar, a Depleting Chemical


May’09:  Sugar Cravings—Kicking the Sugar Habit


June’09:  Natural Sweeteners as Substitutes for Sugar

Strategies to Lower Stress


Sleep: Sleep is the best defense against stress. Sleep is also the best strategy against weight gain since sleep lowers cortisol and insulin (the fat storage hormone) and helps prevent insulin resistance.  In addition, sleep boosts growth hormone (builds muscle mass) and leptin (curbs hunger and cravings for carbohydrates).    Sleep is also important for immunity, fertility, and mood:


“The immune system that controls metabolism…wages a battle every night when you sleep against bacteria and viruses.  Sleeping is actually ‘thinning the herd’ of bacteria…an adaptation that helps us get the jump on bacteria every planetary rotation.”  …T.S. Wiley


Sleep researchers at the University of Chicago found that the cortisol levels of people averaging just 6.5 hours of sleep were 50 percent greater and their insulin function was 40% lower compared to subjects getting 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep.  Similarly, a Yale study of more than 1700 men living on fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night “doubled their risk of weight gain and diabetes because of excess cortisol exposure and its interference with insulin metabolism and blood sugar control1.”


Just following an early-to-bed policy for a week can reset cortisol levels.   And, once you succeed in lowering cortisol, you have a greater chance of deep, restful nighttime sleep to help perpetuate early waking, daytime alertness, and future nights of restful sleep.


How much sleep do you need? Sleep researchers tell us that the typical person, if free to choose, will sleep 8 hours and 15 minutes.   I need a solid 8 hours, but I have family members who seem to thrive on much less (though they often nap in their chairs!).  How much sleep is optimal is a personal matter.  Do you wake up in the morning eager to get out of bed?  Do you need stimulants like coffee to get going?  Do you rely on caffeine to get through the day?  Do you feel mentally “off?”  Do you rely on naps?  If you answer in the affirmative, chances are good that you are not getting adequate sleep at night.


Strategies for sleep. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine and follow a regular bedtime schedule.  Go to bed and get up at the same time (when possible).  Try not to nap more than 20-30 minutes, and do not make napping a regular habit.  Make sure the room is dark to help your body make melatonin.


Avoid caffeine beyond lunch time and alcohol in the evening (it can awaken you between 1-3 a.m.).  Because it takes energy to fall to sleep, a very light carbohydrate snack may help you drop off to sleep.


Try to get some vigorous exercise each day, but not too close to bedtime; as well as exposure to the sun.


Exercise. Aerobic exercise and lifting weights can counter the effects of stress-related cortisol.  Enjoyable aerobic exercise helps burn off energy mobilized and stored in the muscles by stress.  It helps reset the body clock from jet-lag.  Exercise also heightens the body’s sensitivity to cortisol and insulin, so it can get by with less.  Be sure to choose an activity you enjoy.  Torturing yourself with exercise you dislike elevates cortisol and becomes self-defeating.


Weight training builds muscle mass, which is important for metabolism since a pound of new muscle is estimated to burn 50 additional calories a day.  Weight training helps to counter the normal muscle loss associated with aging:  While muscle strength can be sustained through age 50, it tends to decline by about 20 percent through age 70, and by 40 percent by age 802. Lost muscle impairs balance and means slower metabolism, reduced insulin resistance and hormone function, lowered immunity, weaker bones, decreased conditioning and aerobic fitness.


Massage; Yoga; Meditation; Prayer; Time Outdoors. These are all effective ways to lower cortisol, but only if they are activities that you enjoy.  If trying to make time for a yoga class adds stress to your day and makes you feel guilty, sitting quietly in a chair listening to your favorite music might be a better choice.  Whatever you choose should be fun, stress-free, and enjoyable.


Cook, Knit, Play Games. If you like kitchen arts, cooking can relieve stress and be empowering.  Cooking, like knitting, can be creative and offers a sense of control at least over a small portion of life.



Eat Breakfast, Eat Lunch, and Enjoy Daytime Snacks. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  We need food to meet the 6-8 a.m. cortisol crest of early morning.



Try Not to Diet. Studies show that dieting is stressful and therefore boosts cortisol levels.  Eating at the right times of the day—breakfast, lunch, snacks, and an early dinner—helps keep cortisol on track.


Reading Resources


  • Bruce McEwen, The End of Stress as We Know It
  • Shawn Talbott, The Cortisol Connection
  • T. S. Wiley, Lights Out:  Sleep, Sugar, and Survival
  • J. E. Williams, Prolonging Health
  • James L. Wilson, Adrenal Fatigue


  1. Talbott, 142. []
  2. J.E.Williams, Prolonging Health, 38. []

Dietary and Lifestyle Ways to Manage Inflammation

Dietary Ways to Manage Inflammation


  • Cut out inflammatory foods.  These include processed refined sugars, grains, and flours; high fructose corn syrup (HFCS); products from grain-fed animals; trans fats; and refined “white” vegetable oils—especially those derived from corn, soybean, and cottonseed.  These and other “cheap, stripped” oils are often found in commercial salad dressings and processed foods and are loaded with omega-6 inflammatory fatty acids (Tables 1 and 2, below).  Limit consumption of the nightshade vegetables—potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tobacco—which have an alkaloid, solanine, which can exacerbate pain caused by inflammation.
  • Eat whole foods, especially colorful, nutrient-dense plant-based foods rich in anti-oxidant phytonutrients (to contain oxidative stress) and with a low glycemic index (to control insulin).   Or, combine higher glycemic color-rich personal favorites with good fats and proteins, which also work to control blood sugar and insulin. [October ’07 Newsletter]
  • When possible, choose grass-fed animal products, which have an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-3/ omega-6 fatty acids.  This healthy balance of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids means that grass-fed animal products are “neutral” with respect to inflammation.  [September ’09 Newsletter]
  • Use good fats and oils.  For the dinner table choose extra-virgin olive oil—low in omega-6 fatty acids, it is essentially “neutral” concerning inflammation.  Also at the table consider flax oil and flax meal [See recipes, below].  For cooking, try stable fats like butter or ghee from grass-fed animals, as well as unrefined coconut oil.  Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, an anti-microbial that fights bacteria and viruses that can lead to inflammation.1 ( Table 2, below)
  • Consider a daily fish oil supplement.  Fish oil is the most powerful and efficient way to reduce inflammation.  Supplementing with fish oil is important because you cannot get enough by eating fish.  This is because most beneficial fish oil is in the skin and is lost in cooking; and, of course, the skin is often not eaten.  I prefer fermented cod liver oil2 as a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA and DHA.  EPA inhibits enzymes that foster inflammation, while DHA is vital for brain function.  Fish oil is the only direct source of EPA and DHA.  For specific tips on using fish oil, see below. [Flax oil is not a comparable substitute for fish oil since it must be converted to EPA.  This requires healthy functioning cells and adequate levels of vitamins B3, B6, and C, and magnesium and zinc—which cannot be counted on.]
  • Cook with anti-inflammatory herbs, and spices such as turmeric and ginger.  These inhibit the enzyme that makes arachidonic acid (AA), the precursor for inflammatory hormones.  Turmeric, ginger, and rosemary are also powerful antioxidants.
  • Eliminate any potential food allergens (e.g., wheat, corn, soy, egg whites, gluten, dairy, yeast, peanuts) in order to support and restore both intestinal health and immunity (see Probiotics, below).
  • Try to buy organic produce, especially when purchasing fruits and vegetables with very high pesticide levels (See Table 3, below).   Pesticides and toxins disrupt good intestinal flora and weaken the immune system.  Both of these factors create inflammation.
  • Consider probiotics (e.g., fermented foods [July ’09] or a high-grade probiotic supplement) to maintain and/or to restore good intestinal bacteria.  Inflammation is tied to “gut” health in several ways:   First, because “good” intestinal bacteria are the backbone of the immune system;3 and a healthy immune system is important to manage the inflammatory response.    And second, because good bacteria are essential to protect the delicate intestinal wall. The intestine works as a sentry—no food enters the blood stream without passing through the mucosal lining of the digestive system.  Nothing “gets into” the body without passing through this barrier.  But, this lining is fragile; it is only one cell in depth, and stretched out, spans the size of a tennis court.  If the barrier is damaged, toxins and undigested foods can enter the blood stream (“leaky-gut syndrome”)4 to create allergic reactions and autoimmune disorders.
  • Eat adequate protein with each meal to balance blood sugar. The concept of a Barry Sear’s “Zone Diet” is to have every meal include moderate portions of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, where a protein serving is defined as 3-4 ounces.   This balance curbs insulin (the nutrient/fat storage hormone that responds to blood sugar spikes from carbohydrates) and stimulates the secretion of glucagon (the hormone that assures the flow of glucose for the brain by causing the release of glycogen from the liver).

Return to the table of contents.

Lifestyle Approaches to Manage Inflammation


  • Moderate aerobic exercise 5-6 days a week helps prevent insulin resistance. A brisk 45-60 minute walk is perfect. [Excessive exercise, no matter how good the diet, is inflammatory and does more harm than good.5 ]  Moderate aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and stress level, which forces your cells to become more responsive to taking up glucose from the bloodstream.  When this happens, it relieves the pancreas, allowing it to secrete less insulin into the bloodstream.  It is important to keep insulin at bay, because insulin boosts arachidonic acid (AA), a precursor of inflammatory hormones.6
  • Weight trainingseveral days a weekcan help reduce insulin levels and strengthen immunity.  Unlike aerobic exercise which burns fat, strength training burns glucose so it does not directly melt away fat stores.  But, by building muscle, what it does do is to make it easier for the body to gobble up glucose from the bloodstream, so less insulin is required.  Greater muscle mass also boosts immunity because the body stores amino acids in the muscles, including glutamine, which is a major building block of specialized immune cells.7
  • Avoiding “visceral” (belly) fatcurbs chronic inflammation. This is because the body uses visceral fat as a place to store excess AA (a precursor of inflammatory hormones) in order to prevent high AA levels and inflammation from affecting vital cells.  Visceral fat is metabolically active and allows for the steady release of stored AA into the bloodstream, where it can then be taken up by the cells.”8 In short, belly fat fosters inflammation, which leads to more fat deposits, which creates more inflammation.
  • A regular relaxation strategy helps  lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is an anti-stress hormone whose job it is to turn off the inflammatory response, but constant stress and chronic inflammation keep it elevated.   Mediation, yoga, deep breathing or any quiet relaxation for 20-30 minutes a day can help normalize cortisol.  And, deep breathing helps to expel toxins, free radicals, and inflammatory agents from the body.
  • An early bedtime and enough sleep honors the body’s natural biorhythms. The hours before midnight are the most efficient for restoring the body.  Sleep is the body’s own form of natural mediation.   Sufficient nighttime sleep allows cortisol to follow its natural cyclical ebb and flow, dropping off around midnight and peaking about sunrise.9


  1. Enig []
  2. Available from Green Pastures and Radiant Life. See January 2010 Shopping Guide. []
  3. See Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, 25-30. []
  4. Primary causes of “leaky-gut” syndrome include low-fiber, high-sugar, refined-flour, and processed foods; overuse of medications, such as NSAIS, antibiotics, acid blockers, hormones, steroids, and birth control pills; toxins such as mercury and molds; low-grade imbalances, such as yeasts, parasites, and bad bacteria; and stress…Mark Hyman. []
  5. Dr. Barry Sears, The Anti-Inflammation Zone. []
  6. Sears, 24. []
  7. Sears, 106. []
  8. Sears, 238. []
  9. See Bruce McEwen, The End of Stress as We Know It. []

Refined Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats

To make “clear, sparkling” supermarket vegetable oils (corn, canola, safflower, etc.) seed oils are first stripped of vital nutrients, such as lecithin, chlorophyll, vitamin E, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus and then deodorized at high temperatures, approaching 500 degrees.  There is nothing left to taste and nothing to go rancid.  Almost all restaurants use these refined white oils due to their long shelf life.  But, because they are missing nutrients, it is hard for the body to break them down.  Cancer can be a direct result of bad fatty acid metabolism.1  Trans fats are unsaturated oils whose natural bent (cis-shape) structure has been altered and straightened (to a trans-shape), by high temperatures, pressure, and a limestone catalyst.   In its natural cis-shape, an unsaturated oil’s hydrogen atoms lie on the same side of the double bond and repel each other, which creates a slight bend in the carbon chain, as well as an important electron cloud (vital to high-order energy and electric processes) at the site of the double bond.2  High temperatures flip the hydrogens to opposite sides of the carbon molecule, straightening its structure and diffusing its original life-giving force.


This slight change to a straighter trans-shape dramatically alters its character, its capacity for vital functions, and its effect on health.  Trans fats block the efficient deployment of EFAs.  This has important implications for cancer and the immune system.  Because trans fats almost fit, they fool the body and interfere in many other ways, especially with enzyme activity and the building and function of cell membrane structures.  They alter cell permeability, jeopardizing cell integrity and function.  Since trans fats have a higher melting point and are thus “sticky” they foster platelet aggregation, encouraging blood clotting and strokes.  Trans fats also interfere with complex and intricate neurological electrical energy and cellular communication activity throughout the body.


Trans fats, then, are synthetic fats that cannot be metabolized properly and foster chronic disease.  Trans fats raise insulin levels (tied to obesity, diabetes, degenerative disease); lower immune response and HDL cholesterol; contribute to Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, arthritis, and aging.3  Trans fats “interfere with enzyme systems in the body.  These disrupt enzymes (delta-6 desaturase) that convert omega-3s and -6s to elongated forms for sophisticated neurological and biochemical processes.  They also disarm enzymes that make carcinogens harmless while they increase enzymes that make carcinogens more toxic.”4  Thus, they are a major cause of cancer.

Copyright 2010

  1. Paul Pitchford, p. 181. []
  2. Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, p. 13. []
  3. Joseph Mercola, M.D., speech to IIN, May, 2007 []
  4. Fallon and Enig []